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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Good Odd

KneeboneBoy 199x300 Good OddOn the eve of the National Book Award finalist announcements, I’m coming out the gate with my dark horse: THE KNEEBONE BOY.

Page One:

There were three of them. Otto was the oldest, and the oddest. Then there was Lucia, who wished something interesting would happen. Last of all was Max, who always thought he knew better.  They lived in a small town in England called Little Tunks. There is no Big Tunks.   …I was the one voted to tell this story because I read the most novels, so I know how a story should be told. Plus I’m very observant and have a nice way of putting things; that’s what my teacher Mr. Dupuis told me. I can’t tell you which Hardscrabble I am–Otto, Lucia, or Max–because I’ve sworn on pain of torture not to.  They said it’s because the story belongs to all three of us, and I suppose they’re right, but it seems unfair since I’m doing all the work. No one can stop you from guessing though.

Otto, Lucia and Max’s story pretty much defies summary. There’s a missing mother (hm, interesting comparison to KEEPER?), a harrowing night lost in London, a castle folly in a place called Snoring-by-the-Sea, a ghost, a sultan, a secret.  But it’s the writing that makes this story zzzing.  The narrator keeps his/her idenity artfully technically hidden, though the reader can pretty quickly and accurately guess, therefore getting to feel as smarty-pants as the narrator his/herself.   There’s the way that Otto talks without speaking, and the way that certain secrets are laid out obviously though adults talk around them enough to obscure them (except, often, to Max, who usually does know better).  There’s the very matter-of-fact way in which horrible situations are presented, lending a surreality that readers made identify with: no, this is not how their life is (thank goodness!), but certainly how it often feels.

I’m guessing that author Potter identifies herself with the young Great Aunt Haddie, who the Hardscrabble’s dad Casper notes is “an odd one.” ”Good odd,” amends Lucia, as she reads a note from Haddie:

Congratulations! If you are reading this it means that you are not dead, decapitated, or otherwise mortally wounded. …You might be feeling disappointed right about now because you have faced dark tunnels and high cliffs and grave danger, yet nothing has changed. …Though you have risked life and limb, you still have to clip your toenails every so often. Your lives will feel pretty blechy for a while. All heroes feel that way after their adventure is over. But not to worry. You’ve had a big adventure before the age of fourteen, and now your lives will never be the same.  Adventure is addictive, my friends. Before long you’ll find some other way to risk your necks. Poor old Casper!”

By returning her characters to as ordinary a life as possible after putting them through extraordinary circumstances, Potter allows for the reader to claim the same life-changing feeling, just for having been there.

This is my kind of book: good odd.  It makes me think of one of my all-time favorites: THE CANNING SEASON by Polly Horvath. And it is already suffering from the same kind of mixed criticism that such risk-taking odd-voiced books acquire.  While the Booklist reviewer doesn’t mince enthusiasm (“Hilarious and heartbreaking, wild and down-to-earth”), the Kirkus reviewer, while seemingly equally enthusiastic, ends with this trivializing qualifier: “a quirky charmer.” And the SLJ reviewer simply can’t get on board.   Should this book be discussed by the Newbery committee, it’s likely to pick up a similar array of sentiment.  Which is not to say that it doesn’t stand a chance…especially as I think it  will instill a kind of Hardscrabble fever in its fans.   It’s currently in my top 3, and the only fiction title there.

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Nina Lindsay About Nina Lindsay

Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at ninalindsay@gmail.com

Comments

  1. Miriam says:

    Aaaaand it goes on the library holds list.

  2. Kristen says:

    And the other two?

  3. Beth Kephart says:

    A book I am so glad to learn about through you. Like Kristen, I’m intrigued to learn your other two top choices.

  4. samuel says:

    I would predict that the other two are The good, the bad and the barbie and Sugar changed the world.

  5. Kiera says:

    I’ve got this on hold and can’t wait. Last year, our kids mock newbery group picked SLOB as their winner. I loved SLOB, and though this sounds like a different animal, I’m very intrigued.

  6. Wendy says:

    BIG spoilers here! Please don’t read if you haven’t finished the book!

    In the “Shortlist Announced” post, several people mentioned being uncomfortable with the treatment of mental illness in this book, wondering if it was overtrivialized. I’m more-or-less a “professional in the field” as a registered nurse (though I don’t work solely with psychiatric patients) and did not find it offensive or trivial; nor did I find it too dark in comparison with the book’s tone, as someone else suggested. I have found psychiatric hospitals and wings to be full of laughter at times; often gallows humor, sure, but staff and patients just have to laugh or no one could cope. The treatment plan vaguely outlined in the book is the opposite to conventional treatment (it’s usually standard practice that you don’t feed into a delusional person’s delusions), but not unheard of, and of course it’s the whole point that the Snoring-by-the-Sea hospital is unconventional. And in the few pages where the book does talk explicitly about mental illness, I thought it touched upon a few tragic and very real truths (such as when Casper doesn’t want to tell anyone because that would make it real).

    I think the book gives the reader just enough to keep him/her thinking after the story is done–wondering what might happen next, what it would be like to know this about your mother, and how things are going to be between the kids and their father.

  7. Jonathan Hunt says:

    The treatment of mental illness at the very end of the book did not bother me. Yes, it was unconventional, but the whole book was unconventional. I didn’t read it as strictly realistic fiction because it always had slight hints of absurdity.

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